Incarnation - Sunday, 22nd December, 1996
Prof Paul Davies writes the lead article in Saturday's "The Sydney Morning Herald" (21.12.96) entitled "The Future of God". Paul Davies, Professor of Natural Philosophy, Uni. of Adelaide, a distinguished physicist, won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, the world's richest prize.
His writes of how people seek to satisfy their insatiable hunger for God in a age when many religious answers lose their meaning. As science illuminates the mysteries of the universe, does God have a role as we enter the Third Millennium? He writes that people "express a vague belief in "something", even if it is not the God of the Bible. They yearn for reassurance, to be told that their lives have a significance beyond the daily drudgery."
So people search after God. Every new pathway, every other religion, every unusual belief has its searchers who ignore the wisdom of the ages and established truth, hoping that somehow in novelty they will find satisfaction. Job, living hundreds of years before Jesus, wished he could find God and put to him his perplexing questions: Job 23 3 "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! 4 I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say. 6 Would he oppose me with great power? No, he would not press charges against me. 7 There an upright man could present his case before him. 8 But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. 9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him." People seek after God.
1. THE SEARCHING OF THE SCIENTIFIC MIND. Prof Davies indicates that the scientific mind is turning in a search after the meaning and purpose behind the universe. He does not accept that "the universe as revealed by science is necessarily purposeless, meaningless and Godless. On the contrary, the more science unveils the workings of the physical universe, the more ingenious, awesome and meaningful it becomes."
Scientists, as revealed in his twenty or more books including "The Mind of God" and "God and the New Physics", are seeking the answers to the great religious questions of the ages. He writes, "For centuries topics such as the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the nature of consciousness remained the exclusive preserve of religion and philosophy. Now they are part of scientific investigation. Inevitably the scientists involved are revisiting the age old questions of existence: what is physical reality? How did the universe begin and what awaits it at the end of time? What is the place of human beings in the cosmic scheme? ... Do we live in a universe that came into existence for no reason and which consists of nothing more than a collection of mindless particles moved by blind and purposeless forces toward a pointless, final state? Or is there more to it than that - something deeper, something significant? Is the universe ultimately an absurdity, or is there a solid rational ground to physical existence? In short, is the universe ultimately meaningless, or is it about something?"
That is the key question that every person needs to answer for him or herself. "Is the universe ultimately meaningless, or is it about something?"
God never promises to reveal Himself or the meaning of creation to those who merely search for him to satisfy some selfish question. He says: Prov 1:28 "Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me." But if a person seeks God with the right intention and commitment, God reveals Himself to them. Prov 8:17 "I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me." Jere 29:13 "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
So some seek God in the intellectual quest simply to satisfy their questions, wanting to place their knowledge ahead of others, to hold all the answers, to speak infallibly. They want by their intellect to encompass God, to make God logically verifiable and scientifically demonstrable. They want to place themselves beyond God, but God tantalisingly places Himself beyond their knowing because they are not seeking with a heart of love.
Others seek God in art, beauty, poetry, the environment, and if they seek Him rightly, they have His promise that they find Him. Others seek God in religious fervour, looking for God in an experience, in an emotion, in a feeling, but once more, if their purpose is a selfish one God is tantalisingly far from them. But if they seek God for His sake, they find Him. Others seek God in serving others. Perhaps by giving their lives into a monastic community, into missionary service, into charitable work, into voluntary service hoping that by helping others they will discover God. But God hides Himself from all, unless they seek Him with love. Who then can find God by searching? God does answer our need to find him in an unexpected way.
2. GOD REVEALS HIMSELF TO US AT CHRISTMAS. This is the last thing that could be expected: that the nature, meaning of purpose behind the whole of creation is not something we discover, but something that discovers us. We do not find, but are found. We do not discover God. He reveals Himself.
The story of Christmas is that God the great creator and provider reveals Himself to us. That there in the manger of Bethlehem lay the Light of the world. 2 Cor 5:19 "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." God had come to us, putting on skin, joining the human race, as one with us.
Every Christmas, thousands of clergymen are in error when they speak about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, as the beginning of the life of Christ. Even the Gospel writers, Mark and Luke start their accounts of the life of Jesus with the coming of John the Baptist. Matthew, has a strong sense of his nation's history, so he starts the story of Jesus by going back to Abraham 1800 years before. But they all miss the point. Only John understood. The life of Jesus Christ has no beginning. The Bible affirms that Jesus Christ is eternal, without beginning or end. It declares rather, that He is the beginning and the end. That He was there at the creation and will be there at the end of this world. He is alpha and omega. He is beyond time. Prof Paul Davies agrees: "Time is part of creation."
Christmas records the incarnation of Christ, (John 1:14) "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
Christmas in Bethlehem reveals the occasion of the coming of Christ: (Gal 4:4-5) "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." Christmas tells us about the place and the events surrounding the coming of Christ among us: Matthew states 1:18 "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about."
If Jesus existed before His birth, what then was Jesus doing before Bethlehem? That is an question that deserves an intelligent answer. Paul understood and wrote: (Col 1:15-17) "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Jesus Christ expresses to us the essential nature of the eternal God, that He existed before all creation, that He was involved in the creation of everything, that the whole of creation was through Him, and for His glory. He is above all created things, is the centre point around which everything else revolves, and the cohesive force that holds everything in its proper place. That Jesus Christ is bigger than many have realised!
To think of Jesus Christ as a good man who was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, healed people, taught some incredibly sane teaching that the world must still try if it is to save itself, then died upon a cross and be raised from the dead - to think this is a wonderful story of a great man - is to miss the point. Rather it is the story of a great God!
Our God who expressed Himself in Jesus in Bethlehem for our salvation, first expressed Himself through the eternal Christ in creation. Jesus Christ is God-man. John says Jesus Christ was "in the beginning with God" but whose life "in the flesh" is the centre of our salvation. This Jesus Christ in the flesh revealed God to us and enabled the forgiveness of our sins, was at work in the creation of the world, in the history of Israel, continued working in the Church after his death, and will be the judge of all at the end of all time. Jesus Christ is beyond time! To be God is to be timeless. The nature of the divine is to be eternal. Jesus never achieved eternal life: He always possessed it. That is how He is able to share that eternal life with us.
"Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as Man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel."
Incarnation means that the eternal God joined the human race. God is not aloof and indifferent. He reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, by taking flesh and dwelling among us at Bethlehem. The idea that the Son of God, eternally pre-existing in glory with the Father, moved by love became incarnate is central to Christian faith. The coming of Christ at Bethlehem, was an example of the grace of Jesus Christ, who gave up all the richness and glory of heaven, to share our life on earth, being born in the stable of animals, attended by the most humble of earth's workmen. (2 Cor 8:9) "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich." God had joined the human race in poverty and weakness.
Jesus was never deified: made God. To talk of "deification" would have been repugnant to the apostles. To a Jew the notion that a man might become God was blasphemy. If we understand the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, we will have a bigger picture of Him than we ever had previously. We understand what He was doing before Bethlehem. Those who answer that question really know Jesus.
Why then do so many modern people think of Jesus as only a good man? The answer is that they start at the wrong end. They start with the historical Jesus, the man Jesus of Nazareth. But this is not all that the New Testament says about Jesus. Even at His birth, the angel Gabriel said to Mary: (Luke 1:35) "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." This eternal (John 1:14) "Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
Professor Charles Birch of Syd. Uni. says: "God is vaster than our experience of Him. When I go down to the ocean and swim on its shores I get to know one part of the ocean; its near end. But there is a vast extent of ocean way beyond my ken that is nevertheless continuous with that bit of the ocean I know. So it is with God. We touch God at the near end, yet that same God extends into the farthest reaches of the universe. This is the full meaning of incarnation." "On Purpose" (p96 NSW Uni Press '90) At Bethlehem, God had joined the human race. We no longer need seek Him. He has come to us as one of us. In Jesus Christ, we find God.
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